Wild and crazy training methods seem to come out every other week these days. Whether it's static-contraction training, superslow mo or one-set-per-week workouts, the get-big fads go in and out of style faster than bell-bottom jeans and capri pants for guys.
Much of that is probably due to the explosion of information available on the Internet. Unfortunately, the explosion has included a lot of collateral damage—unscientific and downright bad training methods being popularized.
What if I were to tell you that one method of training has been proven to cause significant hypertrophy in numerous scientific studies? That it involved lifting weights that are about half the poundage you'd typically use? Then what if I told you that the method stimulates growth by reducing blood flow to the muscles you're working? You'd probably say I'm an idiot and turn the page—but then you'd remember that I mentioned scientific research. Ah, you are interested.
The method is called occlusive training, and it's been around for a while, racking up unbelievable results backed by solid data. For some reason nobody's jumped on the concept, but I'm here to tell you how you can integrate it into your current training to help slap on some big-time muscle.
Research On Occlusive Training
Studies show that moderate-intensity training (60 to 85 percent of one-rep maximum), with short rest periods (one minute) yields optimal strength and hypertrophy gains.
Some scientists suggest that an intensity threshold of 60 percent of 1RM is required to stimulate hypertrophy and strength gains. That renders low-intensity training—20 to 40 percent of 1RM—obsolete in strength training and bodybuilding.
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Two primary mechanisms by which moderate-intensity training stimulates growth are greater recruitment of muscle fibers and the accumulation of metabolites—lactic acid, for instance—that serve as signaling molecules for anabolic hormones and other growth factors.
It's reasonable to assume that if athletes could simulate the conditions produced by moderate-intensity training, they'd get similar results. Well, assume your brains out, for it is entirely possible, and you won't even have to train heavy to do it.
Researchers have found that occluding blood to the muscles during low-intensity physical activity can produce an anabolic response equal to, or perhaps greater than, moderate-intensity exercise. Occlusion training has also benefited the young and the elderly, regardless of training status.
In a short-term study investigating the effects of blood-occlusion training on protein synthesis—a.k.a. muscle anabolism—six healthy male subjects, average age 32, performed two sessions of low-intensity leg extensions for four sets, working at 20 percent of 1RM and taking 30 seconds of rest between sets.
They exercised with and without a blood pressure cuff wrapped around their thigh and inflated to 200 mm Hg. The cuff effected blood flow. Protein synthesis increased by nearly 50 percent following occlusion training but was unchanged in the control condition.
Longer-term studies have shown several advantageous adaptations as a result of occlusion training. A research team looked into the effects of performing leg extensions twice weekly for two months in elite rugby players.
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The athletes were separated into three groups:
- Those doing leg extensions with blood occlusion of the thighs at 50 percent of 1RM
- Those doing leg extensions without blood occlusion at 50 percent 1RM
- A control group doing no exercise
Strength and quadriceps size improved by 14 percent and 12 percent, respectively, in the blood-occlusion group, while neither increased in the nonocclusion or control groups.
Amazingly, this method works regardless of the age of the trainee. One study had 24 healthy elderly women, average age 58, perform dumbbell curls twice weekly for 16 weeks. The subjects were separated into groups:
- One doing low-intensity exercise—at 30 to 50 percent of 1RM—with occlusion
- Another doing low-intensity exercise without occlusion and a third doing moderate-intensity exercise without occlusion
Muscle mass was greater in the biceps brachii and brachialis after occlusion training (20.3 and 17.8 percent, respectively) than nonocclusion training (6.9 and 3.8 percent), and occlusion training tended to produce greater hypertrophy gains than the moderate-intensity training (18.4 and 11.8 percent).
More recently, scientists have found 6 percent increases in thigh muscle along with 8 to 10 percent increases in 1RM and isometric strength, respectively, in young men who walked for two five-minute bouts with occlusion, six days a week for three weeks. Conversely, no increases in either muscle mass or strength were observed in the control condition.
Get the full article in the April addition of Iron Man Magazine. Full article includes: mechanisms, practical applications, different methods, exercises, sets, reps, and more.
Editor's Note: Layne Norton has a B.S. in biochemistry and is a Ph.D. candidate in nutritional science. He's a professional drug-free competitive bodybuilder in the IFPA and NGA. His Web site is www.BioLayne.com. IM